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5 of 8 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Gifted writing in a complex portrayal, October 23, 2011
This review is from: Stone Arabia: A Novel (Hardcover)
There are no heroes portrayed in the characters that make passage through Stone Arabia. But I don't suspect the author was aiming to create any from this work. The story is one with post-modern influence touching on themes of art, the corrupting influence of modern media in our lives and the despairs of mid-life. Although the story is well-crafted, it is not one where the characters are sympathetic icons for our own aspirations. To tell this story honestly requires a bit of bravery and willingness to challenge what's good in the world...and what is not.

As characters, Denice and Nik worth don't elicit much empathy, unless you've traveled somewhere along the paths and byways of their emotionally vapid upbringing. There are enough children of broken homes where the background terrain will look familiar and where parts of this story can make you feel (rightfully) uncomfortable. The sense that children of divorce may lack a psychological and emotional center is evident in the characters.

Nik's story is fascinating for anyone who has struggled with their own creative self-expression. Portrayed in his younger years as a musical artist at the brink of breaking into popular mainstream; he ultimately takes the path of gradually abandoning his original creation. The primacy of his music declines in to a meta-art of his own story as he wished to have it played out. For lack of a better term, his artistic expression morphs into life-long chronicle of his own imagined career. As an artist, Nik Worth would not be the first to self-chronicle their lives into an epic literary creation (Wordsworth, "The Recluse" and an element of Marcel Proust fiction that evolved into "Remembrance of Things Past, come to mind). But what is fascinating is his use of all the personalized tools of mass media (CD's, posters, magazine articles, news clippings, etc.) to create this artistic rendering. The average reader would ask what's the point...and the literary detective would want to know the motivation. Neither will be satisfied by the clues that are provided. Nik's efforts are a dead-end, but one with a plan and a purpose. One can debate the value of either as the story ends.

The character of Denice reveals more inner dialogue, but did find the back and forth between first and third person narration distracting in the beginning. Denice carries all of the uncertainty of youth into an anxious middle-age. The decline of an aging mother, a reclusive and self-neglectful brother as well as the febrile independence of daughter seeking an outlet for her own self-expression makes for a sense of self-alienation in her own life. As cultural observation, she has, and is not, well-served by the men in her life...a stronger woman would have struck out long ago to expect more of herself and those who would add value to her efforts for better days. Nonetheless, her story is much like many of ours...one of her own making. She has no other center than the care and concern of those around her, while denying her own needs. She is most concerned about Nik and is the only one to discern his path. The artifice of her steady calm for others slowly crumbles against the backdrop of mass media portrayals of a broken world that come across the news flash crawls during her time alone watching television. After Niks' plans become realized, one of these stories sets her on a journey in search of the missing humanity of her own true self.

In summary, the book is well-written. It does have several lapses into cultural and political observations, but these are not fatal. The only risk is to date the material after a period of time. Not all stories have happy endings and in good literature; we should welcome the contrast. Life is messy for many...and this tale has it on full display, but can allow us to contemplate the importance of our own self-expression in the modern world.

The personal irony for myself is writing a book review as if I was a literary critic. :-
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